Adversity has only made faith stronger
Sherrie-Lynn Lilley was a teenager when she learnt she was gradually losing her sight.
A strong Christian, she questioned why God would allow such hardship into her life.
It wasn't until years later that she began to see it as a blessing that could be used for the greater good.
The “turning point” came one day while reading the Book of Job.
“Everyone looks at that story in different ways for different reasons, but what struck me was that Job was chosen by God to experience difficulty,” Mrs Lilley said. “God didn't consult Job first or ask, ‘Are you okay going through this and losing your property, wealth and children?' He just knew Job was the right one because He was confident in who he was and because he possessed such a strong faith in who God was.
“Despite all the calamity that came, Job still chose to worship the Lord. That's something that struck me. I realised there are times when our trouble isn't from the devil per se, but from God saying, ‘I know Sherrie-Lynn can handle it and there is a greater purpose for it'.”
Mrs Lilley, a Bermudian who lives in New York, spoke at an event hosted by Allen Temple AME's Women's Day committee last weekend.
She said she was excited to share her story, and hoped it would empower and inspire others to rise above any obstacles.
“I want people to know they matter and there really is purpose in their journey,” Mrs Lilley said. “Every step in their life is ordered and ordained. It's not the events that really matter, but the response. Most times you don't have control over what happens to you but you can control how you think about that situation, what you do with it and how you process it.”
Identifying the silver lining in a situation and why you may have been chosen to carry a particular burden, was also important, she said.
“Sometimes trouble comes and it's not always easy to understand why, but I believe it has been put there so you can help someone else.
“That's where I am in my life right now. It's incredible because I am seeing my journey unfold to what the true purpose was in the first place and I know I'm an answer to someone else and what they are going through.”
Mrs Lilley noticed a problem with her sight while a student at Warwick Academy.
At first, she was unable to see at night; slowly, her peripheral vision faded.
“After that, my physician noticed something on my retina that he didn't understand or know what it was, so I went overseas to the State University of New York's College of Optometry where I was diagnosed formally at age 14 with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative retinal disease resulting in a progressive loss of vision,” she said.
“I don't call it ‘a descent into darkness', because the connotation with that is it was a negative experience and for me I learnt to see it as a blessing. As opposed to never seeing at all, I had [many years of sight and] the opportunity to marry, to work and to give birth and see the faces of all five of my children.”
She learnt to move past trying moments by thinking positively.
When her vision stopped her from functioning normally, she reached out to the New York State Commission for the Blind.
“The commission compels you into living independently because they won't serve you if you don't have a plan,” said Mrs Lilley, who lost her sight completely 2½ years ago.
“My plan back then was to get acclimated to living as a blind person and then go back to school and get my education. In my teens I had a scholarship from The Salvation Army to attend Bible school, but once that fell through I changed course and started my family soon after that.
“In January 2013, I decided to go back to college to get my degree in psychology and counselling and at the same time I got an associate's degree in Biblical studies.
“In May of 2016 I graduated with honours, at the top of my class, and received a couple of wonderful awards that I wasn't expecting — one for leadership and the other for writing and rhetoric. I'm currently about three-quarters of the way through my master's in mental health counselling at Fordham University.”
Simultaneously she runs Heal Creative Solutions, with an aim of ministering “total healing through the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.
She believes there is a general mindset in Bermuda that once you have a disability you need to be sidelined. “I am hoping to be a living example that doesn't have to be the case,” she said.
“You can live with goals and still get a degree, go to work and enjoy yourself.
“Sometimes we accept help from family members who want to take care of [us], but [it's easy to] fall into a state of dependency or complacency. The system also doesn't facilitate you growing or adapting as a person with a disability. That's something I'm going to be working diligently to change.”
She will host an information session for those looking to advocate for Bermudians with “exceptional abilities” on Saturday, January 12.
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